how people and leaders embrace corporate change (or not)


change = opportunity; If you are not willing to fail, you won’t get very far.

All very easy to say but so much harder to do. I like to differentiate my blog as practical tools and coaching for leadership, so here are some thoughts on how people deal with change.

In my experience there is a 3 stage process that folks typically go through
1) can I simply ignore this?
2) who won, who lost?
3) what now (for me)?

1) in figuring out if this is something that can safely be ignored, the organization is viewed in hierarchy terms – did we shift the chairs on the deck of the Titanic? Are we addressing something fundamental and acknowledging a revolutionary change in direction? are we dressing up ‘status quo’ as change? At it’s most basic “so what?” needs an authentically compelling answer.

As leaders driving change – answer these questions with integrity, and perhaps revise your change plans accordingly! the default for all our staff is to find a way to safely ignore the change. Just because you sent email, held all-hands etc. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you have communicated change – you merely broadcast it.

2) Who won? Who lost? I’ll leave it to qualified analysts to explain the Psychology but I know for sure this is the most vigorously debated around the water cooler and between the thought leaders in your teams. Don’t shy from this fact. Folks make accurate judgements about leaders who pretend a loser won. Thank someone for their hard work, dedication etc if that is true – but anything more is nauseating and will mark you down from potential followers perspective.

Mine for opinion here, you might find an opportunity to correct miss-perceptions or amplify correct assumptions. The bottom line here is that the decisions the organization makes are a clear indication of prevailing culture and intent. For better or worse, pay attention to that fact.

We are often too squeamish to call out the winners – yet, our tribes like to be on the winning side – I mean, who doesn’t? so set up your new leads or strategy guardians for immediate success by identifying their wins and successes in recent work and influence. Help establish their constituency.

3) What now? Critical question, but be prepared to answer “what’s in it for me?” at a micro level. Yes, as a leader you need to be able to talk at a macro level, say “share holder value” for example, but truly great leaders will personalise the message so that every single individual feels like they are on the vital mission of the corporation. Impossible to over invest in the importance of this last piece and it takes a lot of energy from the teams managing the change – but, if you can tell the story of “what’s in it for me?” at the most atomic – your changes will be compelling and sticky.

When you fail to properly tackle any of the above you invite folks to ignore the change you hoped to drive, worse, you reinforce their ability to do so with weak or low authenticity messages.

A more general observation here would be to avoid grand sweeping statements of change if for the audience you are addressing, not much in their day job changes. Again, you must bring rigor to your change in clearly identifying who there is going to be a change for and not get carried away in your own importance by implying that shuffling the pack will create a new suit or extra picture cards etc etc.

Finally, most change is long overdue – so all the above not withstanding, go! start now.

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2 thoughts on “how people and leaders embrace corporate change (or not)

  1. How does one communicate change that means something…it is easy for it to mean nothing!

    It is about self-perseverance, it is Darwinism?

    Like

    • Change is often the answer to a strategic question. “How does the organisation increase market share?” for example, an answer could include an org change for the sales and marketing functions. The mistake that gets made is that all the emphasis goes into explaining the answer and very little into the original question. As I hinted at, the organisational change is *a part* of the solution not all of it. In communicating this change, leaders should set out in detail the importance of the question, and all of the answers they are providing to meet it, where some org change is part of a broader initiative to solve the original question.

      See my posts about focus and priority – it is also important in the overal communication to be clear about how priorities have changed. In the example above, we need to be clear about what happens to previous priorities which might have been profitability or customer satisfaction and which are now depricated to market share.

      Good communication demands honesty – if the question was “how can we cut costs of operation in region xx?” explain why that is important and resist the temptation to dress it up as something else. People who work for you are just not that stupid and your lack of respect for their intelligence will not be forgotten.

      Be inclusive and authentic in the question you want to answer – you’ll get a much richer set of answers that will help you communicate the tactics you are chosing to execute on if you involved opinion deep into your organisation.

      Like

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